COLUMBIA, Mo. — After her first taste of a state meet last season and watching other girls walk up to receive a medal, Monroe City’s Emmalee Williams vowed to become one of those girls on the podium.

That mission was accomplished Friday with Williams taking 12th overall in the Class 2 girls race of the MSHSAA Cross Country Championships.

“I felt way better this year than I did last year, for sure,” Williams said after running a time of 21:09 at Gans Creek Cross Country Course.

Williams got off to a good start and was in 15th through 2,000 meters, but as the race moved into the hillier back section she started to gain ground.

“Some people really died there at the end and I wanted to make sure I maintained and kicked at the end,” Williams said.

That’s where her experience competing at state a year ago came in handy.

“I feel like last year, you would go around the corner and you’d think, ‘Oh, I have that much more to run,’” Williams said. “This year I knew I had this much left, I had to push myself this much to finish.”

Williams became the first medalist in Monroe City cross country history with her finish, but she nearly shared the honors. Freshman Ella Hays crossed the finish line in 22:23 to place 28th, just three spots and 13 seconds away from a state medal.

“She barely missed medaling, but she never even thought that she was going to be that close,” Monroe City coach Laura Mulvaney said. “Just getting that opportunity was incredible. She thought that if she broke into the 50s she would be happy about it all.”

The Monroe City boys made history with their first team appearance in the Class 2 boys race, but through the early going it seemed the bigger meet would swallow up the Panthers.

Junior Kabott Harlan and senior Logan Lucas got caught in a large pack at the first turn and were near the middle of the group through 1,000 meters.

“They came through at the mile mark and they had a good time, they were where they needed to be,” Mulvaney said. “When they hit me (at the one-mile marker) they were in the 60s at that point, so I told them they had to move up if they wanted a decent placement, and that’s when they really kicked it.”

Harlan and Lucas moved up from 62nd and 63rd, respectively, through 2,000 meters to finish 32nd and 33rd, respectively. Harlan came across in 17:51 and Lucas finished in 17:52.

“Kabott’s original PR was 18:04. Logan had been in the 18:14-18:16 range,” Mulvaney said. “To just break into the 17s like that is phenomenal.”

The Panthers had a similar trajectory as a team. Through the early part of the race, the Panthers were in the rear in the team scores, but they climbed four spots to finish 12th out of 16 teams. Kaleb Griffin placed 108th, while Jackson Wheeler was 119th.

Griffin almost didn’t run because of a leg injury, but he toughed it out to help his team succeed.

“Everybody is on Cloud 9, it’s just a surreal experience,” Mulvaney said. “To come down and have any sort of success is just completely unreal. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

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